The William Jefferson Chronicles

William Jefferson reports to Texas prison to begin 13-year sentence

By Bruce Alpert, Times-Picayune
Published Friday, May 4, 2012 12:40 PM

WDSU-TV said Jefferson arrived around 11:30 a.m. today at the facility in one of two cars with people who are close to him, including his brother, Archie, who drove one of the vehicles. He didn't make any comment.

The Bureau of Prisons confirmed that Jefferson is now inside the facility, which is located about four hours west of New Orleans. The surrender came 2 3/4 years after a Virginia jury found him guilty of 11 of 16 corruption charges, most involving his efforts to secure contracts in Western Africa for businesses that were paying for his influence.

Virginia Federal Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presided over Jefferson's six-week trial in 2009, had recommended Jefferson be assigned a prison camp near New Orleans. But the Bureau of Prisons, which makes the assignments, doesn't normally assign inmates with sentences over 10 years to camp facilities and didn't do so with Jefferson.

Under federal sentencing rules, Jefferson, 65, will be required to serve a little over 11 years, meaning he won't get out until he's 76 years old. He can be moved to a camp (there's a satellite camp facility on the Beaumont correctional facility campus) when he has less than 10 years remaining in his sentence. It's also possible the prison warden can decide to move him to a camp sooner by waiving the prison guidelines.Beaumont, like other low-security federal prisons, has a double-fenced, perimeter fencing, unlike a prison camp that has no fencing. It also has more restrictions on inmate movement and higher staffing by correctional officers.

A spokesman for the Beaumont prison said all inmates are required to take a job, from work in the kitchen to clean-up duties, and all have access to exercise facilities.

Beaumont, located about 270 miles west from New Orleans, has a prison camp, low, medium and high security facilities within its complex. According to prison experts, Jefferson's biggest challenge, at least early on, will be adjusting to his loss of freedom.

"The hardest thing is going from being able to make decisions about your life -- when you want to take walk, when and what you want to have for dinner, when you go to sleep, when you wake up, when and what you get to watch on television," said Cheri Nolan, a former Department of Justice official now managing director of Federal Prison Consultants in Virginia.

"Now, he will be totally at the direction of someone telling him not only what to do, but when to do it," Dolan said.

And the food won't be anything like the cuisine available at New Orleans restaurants. Jefferson, who always tried to eat healthy, won't find much healthy food in prison, where the preponderance of offerings are fried and vegetables few.

Prisoners can purchase items such as bagged tuna fish and potato chips from the prison commissary. Federal prosecutors said Jefferson collected $470,000 in funds sent to businesses controlled by his family, with the potential to make millions if the business deals he championed succeeded.

The case is most infamous for the $90,000 FBI agents found in the freezer of his Washington D.C. home by FBI agents during a search conducted in August, 2005, several weeks before Hurricane Katrina. The money was most of the $100,000 in cash that a government informant had handed him -- as FBI agents videotaped the transfer -- money that the agency believed was going to given to then vice president of Nigeria as a bribe. The money never got to the Nigerian VP, and the jury ultimately cleared him on a charge of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

After sentencing Jefferson to 13 years in prison in November, 2009, Ellis, an appointee of the late President Ronald Reagan, allowed Jefferson to remain free, under electronic monitor, while his appeals process moved forward. But after a three-judge appellate panel on March 26 rejected a plea by Jefferson's lawyers for a new trial, Ellis revoked the $50,000 bail he had set for Jefferson and ordered him to begin his sentence by Friday at noon.

Jefferson's lawyers are expected to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which rebuffed his call for a new trial, threw out one of the 11 counts for which he was convicted. But Ellis ruled it would not change Jefferson's 13-year sentence.Ellis, who said he hoped the punishment given Jefferson would serve as a "beacon" to warn other public officials not to succumb to corruption, gave him the longest corruption sentence ever for a member of Congress. It was five more years than another judge gave former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., after he pled guilty to more egregious charges, steering lucrative defense contracts in return for bribes.

Jefferson, who filed for bankruptcy after his 2009 conviction, has kept a pretty low profile after the Virginia jury convicted him on a series of corruption charges, including bribery, racketeering, and honest services fraud. He's popped up on occasion at supermarkets, outside his uptown home and has been spotted playing poker at Harrah's Casino.

Jefferson will continue to receive his congressional pension, estimated at between $40,000 and $50,000, during his prison stay. Congress in 2007 barred pensions to retired members convicted of felonies, but did not make that rule retroactive. Legal experts said Congress doesn't have the authority to take away benefits already awarded.

In March, Jefferson was given permission by Ellis to attend the funeral of his closest friend in Congress, the long-time New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne. "He was really shocked at the death of Congressman Payne, whom he worked with for 20 years," said E. Brandon Garrett, policy director for the Congressional Black Caucus and a former Jefferson staffer who reunited with him at the funeral. "He seemed in good spirits." Garrett said that Jefferson is "very strong," and predicted he'll get through his long sentence okay.


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